Connect with us

Film

Berlinale 2019: ‘Buoyancy’ Is a Brutal Depiction of Modern Slavery

One Cambodian boy’s dream for a better life in Thailand is violently shattered in Buoyancy, an unflinching look at the South East Asian slave trade. Nestling documentary-like reporting within a rags-to-more-rags story, the film’s noble mission is undercut by a somewhat formulaic construction. While the intention is admirable, its emotional effect is also hampered by unrealistic character development and a truncated, Hollywood-esque finale.

It’s easy to see how the cycle of slavery starts. Our hero, Chakra (Sarm Heng), lives on a farm in Cambodia owned by his father (Sareoun Sopheara ). Tilling the paddy fields day and night, he’s given no reward for his hard work apart from a house to sleep in and some food to eat. When a football buddy tells him he can earn plenty more in Thailand, he decides to take the dangerous chance. After all, it can’t be much worse than staying at home, right? The only catch is that the first month of work must be for free. But when he is smuggled across the border and driven to Bangkok, he is put on a trawler to work as a fisherman. Quickly Chakra realizes that he’ll be working for free for much longer than a month.

Buoyancy pulls no punches in its brutal depiction of modern slavery. Men who are too tired to work are tasered to return to the nets. If they don’t respond, they’re chucked off the boat. There are no good options when it comes to surviving; either you curry the favour of the boss, losing your soul in the process, or you slowly waste away until you are no longer able to work. The fish they are catching? Food for pets. There are higher species on the food chain than these poor men.

The captain of the boat is the personification of pure evil, a man who kills and controls others just for fun. He’s up there with Amon Göth in Schindler’s List as one of the worst guys in cinema. Still, he sees something of himself in our protagonist; he too was once a slave. Buoyancy expertly shows how easily the cycle of misery can be perpetuated. With a clear eye for small details, and sparing no punches in the misery people can undergo, this is a difficult yet essential watch.

Chakra is no dummy, quickly figuring out ways to make sure he gets ahead. He still has the advantage of childhood; other men are not so interested, resigned to a fate which offers no light at the end of the tunnel. It’s a terrible world out there, and Buoyancy desperately calls out for some kind of government intervention. The prospect looks grim, considering the fishing industry is worth $6 billion to the Thai government, and any regulation will cut into profits.

Still, the strange ending (which I won’t ruin) suggests that perhaps the issue could be solved through divine intervention alone, giving what was previously a realistic tale something of a feel-good edge. While inspirational, it also seems the wrong tone for a movie focused on something so grim. A subtler, perhaps darker ending may have brought this whole thing into clarity; Buoyancy pivots to action tropes just when it should be aiming for the craw. It’s a shame, especially considering the important message the film carries.

The 69th Berlin Film Festival runs February 7, 2019 – February 17, 2019. Visit the festival’s official website for more info.

Written By

As far back as he can remember, Redmond Bacon always wanted to be a film critic. To him, being a film critic was better than being President of the United States

Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Facebook

Trending

Vesper poster Vesper poster

Vesper: Sci-Fi That Thinks Big With Limited Means

Culture

Full Metal Jacket (1987) Full Metal Jacket (1987)

Full Metal Jacket – Stanley Kubrick’s Misunderstood Masterpiece

Film

Your Full List of All Upcoming Marvel Movies Your Full List of All Upcoming Marvel Movies

A Full List Of Upcoming Marvel Studios Film And TV Releases

Culture

Robocop 1987 Robocop 1987

RoboCop is a Social Satire That Gets More Relevant With Age

Film

Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman: The 10 Greatest Comic Issues Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman: The 10 Greatest Comic Issues

Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman: The 10 Greatest Comic Issues

Comics

Nope Nope

Jordan Peele’s Nope Explained: A Spectacle of “Bad Miracles”

Film

Signs movie review Signs movie review

M. Night Shyamalan Signs Finds Comfort at the End of the World

Film

Alex's War (2022) Alex's War (2022)

Alex’s War, a Documentary Study of Alex Jones, Misses the Big Picture 

Film

Biography: WWE Legends’ Look at Goldberg is One of the Best Wrestling Documentaries Ever 

TV

All Out 2022 Predictions All Out 2022 Predictions

Way Too Early Predictions for All Out 2022

Wrestling

Detective vs Sleuths Detective vs Sleuths

Detective vs. Sleuths: Buckle Up for a Bumpy Ride

Culture

The Gray Man movie review The Gray Man movie review

Netflix’s The Gray Man is its Most Expensive and Emptiest Star Vehicle

Culture

Incredible Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Last Ronin Fan Film Takes The Franchise Into R-Rated Territory

Culture

Paul Verhoeven’s RoboCop 1987 Paul Verhoeven’s RoboCop 1987

Paul Verhoeven’s RoboCop is an Anti-Fascist Classic 

Film

Marvel at San Diego Comic-Con Marvel at San Diego Comic-Con

Marvel at San Diego Comic-Con 2022: A Full Recap

Culture

High Noon at 70: When Time is of the Essence

Features

Connect